Iran Resumes Nuclear Work; the West Scrambles ; International Atomic Energy Agency to Hold an Emergency Meeting Tuesday - a Step Closer toward a Showdown at UN

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Iran's resumption of uranium conversion Monday is set to be taken up at an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency Tuesday - a move that could result in referral of the Iranian nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council.

The council, in turn, could set in motion an international effort to isolate Iran politically and economically, something Iran has long wished to avoid.

The flurry of activity over Iran followed the Islamic Republic's terse rejection over the weekend of a European offer of economic incentives, including help with nuclear-energy generation, in exchange for verifiably giving up all nuclear activities that could lead to a bomb. The events represent a ratcheting up of a confrontation with the West that some officials in the United States have long considered inevitable, given their assumption that Iran is determined to join the nuclear club.

Western officials likened Iran's step to an "in-your-face move" by a nation in a political transition, with a new president in tune with the reigning conservative mullahs. But Iranian officials, who insist their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, say the activity is part of Iran's right to develop nuclear power.

"Part of this for the Iranians is to make a statement about sovereignty and national pride," says Miriam Rajkumar, a South Asia expert in nuclear affairs with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They don't want to end up an international pariah like North Korea, but for them it really is an issue of sovereign rights."

European officials remained cautious Monday, noting that Iran had not delivered an official response to the incentive plan as of late afternoon in Europe. Some also saw as positive the fact that the abrupt resumption of activity was apparently taking place under IAEA surveillance, but the move nonetheless appeared to constitute a violation that officials had said would prompt international action.

Last week representatives of Germany and France, which along with Britain have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, said any resumption of activities at facilities sealed months ago would probably trigger referral of Iran to the Security Council. …